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A male MBA student studying on his laptop in a cafe.

Studying an MBA is enormously rewarding. But it can also be demanding, and even daunting, particularly for students who will invariably be juggling other commitments and may even be returning to study for the first time in a long while. 

Some students will find their rhythm and begin to feel settled in their new course without a great deal of help. For many others, though, a bit of guidance and some specific strategies are helpful – this guide is for them. 

We’ve collated advice, expertise and recommendations from across the world. 

Don’t get too competitive

Writing for MBA Crystal Ball, Sameer Kamat warns that you need to be careful about making comparisons with your peers in an MBA. 

“[S]ince each student comes from a different professional, academic and cultural background, baselines vary wildly,” he suggests. 

That’s not to say you can’t reflect on how you’re going throughout the program and take practical steps to quantify your progress. Kamat just believes that the best person to judge yourself against is you.  

“The best way to measure your performance is to set a baseline for yourself and compare your progress against your own benchmark. This will help you realise that your growth as a student and as a person is enormous, which is its own reward.

“As competitive as the program may often seem, remember, the MBA experience is not really a competition. You are here to achieve some very specific career goals, and all that matters is getting there.”

Don’t be shy about asking for help

Kamat also says that the “enormity of the course work” in an MBA can be initially disconcerting for some students. It’s important to remember if you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, you’re almost certainly not alone.  

“Rest assured there are others like you, and, just like you - they are not letting on. If you feel overwhelmed and wonder if you have made the right choice because you are finding it difficult to cope, reach out for help.

“Once you do, you will realise there are others in the same boat as you and, no, no one will judge you for it. Since the curriculum is tough and parts of it are pretty technical, you could join a study group, where the members help each other depending on their strengths and weaknesses.”

Read judiciously

Karen Schweitzer, writing for ThoughtCo., elaborates on Kamat’s point about the difficult and technical nature of some of the subject matter. While much of what’s covered in an MBA is engaging and compelling, particularly for someone with a business bent, not all of it will keep you turning pages. 

The good news is, you don’t necessarily need to read every single word put in front of you. 

“Reading is a huge part of business school coursework. In addition to a textbook, you will also have other required reading materials, such as case studies and lecture notes. Learning how to read a lot of dry text quickly will help you in each one of your classes. You shouldn't always speed read, but you should learn how to skim the text and assess what is important and what is not.”

 

Male and female business professionals sat on a sofa reading on electronic devices.

 

Reap the rewards of a routine

As we alluded to earlier, most MBA students have more going on in their lives than study. Fitting academic work into an established schedule that might involve picking up and dropping off kids, work, sport and social activities can be tough. 

Schweitzer says the best way to make it work is by planning carefully.  

“Making time for classes and coursework can be a challenge, especially if you are trying to balance a job and family with your education. The first few months can be particularly overwhelming. Establishing a schedule early on can help you stay on top of everything. Buy or download a daily planner and use it to track everything you need to do each day. Making lists and crossing things off as you complete them will keep you organised and help you with your time management.”

Get networking

There’s a social component to every university course, but it’s particularly important in business degrees and perhaps no more important than in an MBA. 

On their website Top MBA, tertiary education experts QS suggest that “a big part of an MBA course is the non-academic side of things. Networking and making contacts is a major reason for attending business school”. 

Their advice is to “make the most of the opportunity. Introduce yourself to everyone you can, and spend time getting to know your classmates online, as well as your professors and Student Success Advisor. 

“Particularly seek out those with different backgrounds to your own. This is one of the best chances you will have in your life to meet such a diverse range of people.”

Make your opinion known – but don’t be overbearing

Where an MBA, or any postgraduate degree, differs a little bit from undergraduate courses is that generally, a lot more learning happens outside what might be called ‘traditional interactions’. (In fact, the move away from a teacher standing in front of a class and dolling out instructions has been happening for many years across all fields of education, but that’s a subject for another blog.) 

Where in an undergrad degree you might look to the lecturer or tutor as the main source of knowledge and expertise, in an MBA your peers can provide exceptional insights and understanding. And they will seek it from you. Just be careful, however, about forcing your opinions on them. 

As the Top MBA says, “[c]ontributing in classes online is essential, but that doesn’t mean you should railroad the group. 

“If you have something to add to the discussion, do so and if you disagree with something, make that known, but don’t attempt to dominate the discussion. You’ll learn more by listening and making space for what your peers also have to say.

Have an outlet

If we haven’t made it clear just yet, we’ll say it again – MBA courses are enjoyable and are a wonderful way to propel your career or prepare you for life as a business owner. But there’s no getting away from the fact that they are exacting degrees. While you’re in the middle of the qualification, it pays to have a stress-reliever you can fall back on outside study hours. 

“[Find] a healthy way to relax,” says Top MBA. “For some, it might be jogging, for others painting or reading. When you’ve found what works for you, set aside time each week to do it."

“Your anxiety levels will thank you.”

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